Blog Archives

The Story of Electronics (video): cut down the ‘stuff’ this holiday

Tis the season to be jolly – and to ask for new shiny gadgets to replace the still newish, slightly less shiny doodas we already have. But how often do we really think about the impacts of our disposable culture?

Watch Annie Leonard’s clip on the story of electronics and take principled actions this holiday season.

For more videos like this, check out her YouTube channel or book.

Sex, Lies and Cigarettes

I came across this video via Steve Harton’s Hartonline Bio website and clicked on it because of the Indonesia connection. I’m glad I did, though it made me quite angry.



Having spent most of the last eight years in Indonesia, I have long been concerned about the ubiquity of the tobacco industry and the all-pervasive nature of the advertising. Everything – literally everything – is sponsored by tobacco. From TV and movies to sports (!), some schools (!!) and music concerts. There is no escaping the message that smoking is cool, good for you and leads to an exciting life.

So how did it get this way when the developed world is shunning the dangers of smoking?

This 40-minute documentary by Vanguard puts it all in context. From the viral video sensation of Aldi the smoking baby, to the simple, ruthless economics of exploiting a developing country and targeting their children as an emerging market, the film-makers lay it out clearly and passionately. It focuses too on the work of an anti-smoking action group who face the huge challenge of taking on big tobacco in a country where so much depends on it – it’s a major cash crop and source of income.

This video is a YouTube upload, but there are clips and resources on the official Vanguard page.

I loved the bit where the Miss Indonesia contestants help the film-maker crash the World Tobacco Asia conference!

Some questions and thoughts to consider when watching the movie:

  1. Near the end of the movie, there is a quote from Warren Buffett: “I’ll tell you why I like the cigarette business. It costs a penny to make. Sell it for a dollar. It’s addictive. And there’s fantastic brand loyalty.” Although he has changed his stance on tobacco, it neatly illustrates the bottom-line ethos of business.
  2. As a publicly-owned company, your main responsibility is to the shareholder – you must maximise profits. Discuss the ethics of targeting children in emerging economies as a market.
  3. Accepted science states that tobacco is addictive and harmful to human health. Why then has this not been recognised by the Indonesian government?
One thing I noticed that the film does not mention – in recent years, anti-smoking has started to take off and it is now forbidden to smoke in public transport and restaurants (still allowed here in Japan). Does this mean the movement is gaining ground? Time will tell.

For more good documentaries, have a look at Vanguard's website.

Snake Oil? Cool infographic on health supplements

One of my favourite blogs is Information Is Beautiful, and here is a lovely example of how a large dataset can be turned into something visual and easily interpreted: The Scientific Evidence for Popular Health Supplements.

What does it represent?

– size of bubbles represents Google search popularity

– height of bubbles represents strength of scientific evidence for its efficacy in the specific health use

By making use of the systematic reviews of double-blind clinical studies, IIB have made sure that we are looking only at reliable, scientifically sound data. You can even see the data here.

I am looking forward to seeing David McCandless’ TED Talk in the upcoming TED Global 2010 at Oxford. Of course, I’ll be watching on the web. Check out more of their infographics here.

Swine Flu (H1N1) Outbreak: Recombination and Media Responsibility

Students in my class take part in this discussion here.

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As we follow the story of the swine flu Influenza A(H1N1) outbreak on the news and the internet, we start to become overwhelmed with information. In all cases related to health, it is vital that we practice critical thinking and take the time to evaluate our sources of information. The more controversial or the higher the impact of a story, the more likely it is for people to be discussing and disseminating (spreading) misinformation. Misinformation can be due to simple misunderstanding, poor communication of facts or delusion and the intention of misleading others.

In this task, we will look at some of the resources related to the swine flu Influena A(H1N1)outbreak and evaluate their usefulness and reliability. We will see how this outbreak relates to syllabus areas of IB Biology and in particular look at the genetic aspect of the evolution of the pathogen.

Here we go – read and watch these resources and try to pick out information that will help you answer the questions below.

Short news clip with Dr. Joe Bresee from the Centre for Disease Control:

What do I need to know about Swine Flu? from NewScientist

Interactive world map of cases and a Swine Flu Timeline from the Guardian

What are the phases of the WHO’s pandemic alert?

The progress of the story (oldest to newest):

Guardian News, 25th April: “Swine flu epidemic kills 16 in Mexico city

Guardian News, 25th April: “Swine flu symptoms similar to human flu

PrisonPlanet, 26th April: “Swine flu a beta-test for a bioweapon, 27th April: “Is swine flu a bioterrorist virus?, 27th April: “Swine flu spreads the globe, genes could contribute to rapid spread, 29th April: “Swine flu from pigs only, not humans or birds

Guardian News, 29th April: “Governments must prepare for a pandemic

Guardian News, 29th April: “Global race to produce swine flu vaccine

BadScience, 29 April: “Swine flu and hype – a media illness (a risk is still a risk)

BBC News, 30 April: “WHO raises pandemic alert level

NewScientist, 2 May: “First genetic analysis of H1N1 shows potecy – and potential weakness

BadScience, 2 May: “How effective is Tamiflu, really, at stopping the aporkalypse?

Discussion questions:

1. Reading the articles from Wired, NewScientist and Nature, can you explain briefly how the new form of swine flu has spread to humans?How does this relate to our Biology syllabus?

2. Which of the sources used above do you consider most reliable? Where should we turn for the most reliable and up-to-date information on health issues?  Why?

3. What do you feel is the ethical (most responsible) way to report global diseases in the media? Why?

4. How could irresponsible journalism make the impacts of an outbreak or pandemic more serious? How would you balance the public demand for information with the possibility that giving out too much information might lead to harm?

Your task:

Take part in at least two of the discussion questions. Make use of the sources provided and show evidence of reading around the subject. Address the guiding questions and build on them with your own ideas, supported by research from reliable sources.Make a minimum of three posts in each of two discussions. Pay attention to netiquette.

Here are some quick reminders of the Biology in action:

Crossing over (recombination) animation

The influenza pandemic of 1918 – what might happen now?

Stem cells used in trachea transplant

Doctors have successfully used stem cells in a rejection-free transplant of a trachea.

This is a great example of internationalism in science – the patient was Colombian, the hospital in Barcelona, stem cells cultivated in Bristol and the final stage of the windpipe construction completed in Milan.

Check your understanding:

Did they grow a new trachea from scratch?

How did they prevent rejection of the tissue?

There is a good short reader on the NewScientist website.

The original research paper was published by The Lancet.

And another video on National Geographic.

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